Timeline: A History of Black Classical Musicians

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As America's first black president begins his second term, the progress for African-Americans in classical music offers a more complex picture.

While blacks continue to play crucial roles in jazz, gospel, R&B, hip-hop and other popular styles, hurdles remain in classical music. Fewer than three percent of U.S. orchestral musicians are black. Opera has a greater concentration of black performers, though singers face their own set of challenges in terms of casting. And when a concert series highlights music by black composers, it's often as part of Black History Month or another special event.

But as histories like Eileen Southern's The Music of Black Americans show, a long history of black involvement with the concert hall precedes contemporary developments. And black influences stretch far and wide: jazz rhythms and blues intervals infuse the concert music of Stravinsky, Copland, Ives and countless more recent composers.

Below is a timeline of some of the major achievements in the tradition of black classical musicians. Click here to view the timeline in full screenPlease share your own pivotal moments for black classical musicians in the comments box below.


Sources include: The Music of Black Americans: A History; Eileen Southern, ed. (Third Edition); African-American Music: An Introduction, by Earl L. Stewart